Teacher assistants perform a variety of tasks. They assist classroom teachers with instructional and secretarial duties. They also are responsible for the students' well-being and safety while at school and on field trips. Teacher assistants are most beneficial when they have been trained in the use of specific educational and classroom management techniques. Teachers rely on an effective assistant to work as their partner in the shared goal of improving student achievement.
Teacher assistants often work with students individually and in small groups. They conduct tutoring sessions to help kids improve reading and math skills. They also help the teacher by observing the class during daily instruction and noticing students who are struggling. This helps teachers of large classes target students who need additional help.
Teachers must maintain a calm, positive classroom environment. This is especially challenging when the class has more than 25 students. Teacher assistants provide valuable help to teachers by monitoring the class and handling disruptions in the room. Although most schools do not allow paraprofessionals to administer direct punishment, they are supposed to enforce the rules of the school and the classroom by alerting the teacher to potential problems. Conversely, assistants can be a positive force for learning by encouraging kids and being available to listen to their concerns. Students often form closer ties with the assistant than their teacher because they have more interaction with them. When they feel comfortable with the assistant, they will be more apt to relay their concerns about school or other problems.
Teachers have many responsibilities, and they depend on their assistants to help with record-keeping and other secretarial tasks. The teacher has more time to devote to lesson-planning and professional development when she does not have to file papers or type tests. Some schools allow assistants to grade papers, which further lessens the teacher's workload. Ultimately, the children get the most benefit from this because their teacher is able to focus solely on academic improvement.
Karen Hollowell has been teaching since 1994. She has taught English/literature and social studies in grades 7-12 and taught kindergarten for nine years. She currently teaches fourth grade reading/language and social studies. Hollowell earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Mississippi and her Master of Arts in elementary education from Alcorn State University.